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Top 10 List: Worst Hymns

Before embarking on what is surely going to be a contentious blog, I just want to say that some of these are just my opinion according to sound of music or wording, and some are what I would consider bad theology.  I am sure there will be songs on here that people are fond of and have wonderful memories of singing.  My objective is not to offend, but to have a bit of fun and point out some fallacies of doctrine also.  I would love for you to comment and leave your opinion as to what I got wrong or what I forgot.  (The comment link is the last one you see after the tags for this article)

10. Pass It On – (W & M) Kurt Kaiser

I sang this song as a kid and it was one of my favorites, though I don’t exactly know why.  I think I just like the idea of shouting from the mountain tops.  Today, as I read the words it just seems to wreak with sentimentalism.  You know, that ooshy gooshy, sappy kind of song.  I’m not  fan of those songs.  There are moving songs that are moving because they speak deep into the heart.  To me, “Pass It On” was written on a surface level in order to evoke an emotion.  Not a fan.

9. Surely Goodness and Mercy – (W & M) John W. Peterson & Alfred B. Smith

Let’s just be honest here: this song sounds like something straight out of someone living on the range.  I love the people, but not always their songs.  Try singing the verses to this song and instead of singing its chorus, try adding in “home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play.”  You’ll be amazed at how easily that fits in.

8. Onward Christian Soldiers – (W) Sabine Baring-Gould, (M) Arthur S. Sullivan

This was another song I loved as a kid and sang it all the time in Vacation Bible School.  However, while I don’t necessarily have a problem with the lyrics per se, I do find that this leads to a militant understanding of Christianity.  It is easy to interpret this song, if one is not careful, with an us/them mentality.  We’re against them and they need to be defeated.  That is true if we are looking the spiritual warfare, but untrue if we are looking at people made in the image of God, marred by sin.  There are better songs, like “O, Church Arise” by the Gettys.

7. Sweet Hour of Prayer – (W) William Walford, (M) William B. Bradbury

Sweet Hour of Prayer…more like sweet hour just lost singing “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”  Again, it’s not so much the lyrics to the song as it is the music.  Maybe I’ve never sung this song correctly, but every time I have sung this song in church, it seems to take forever because it goes soooooo slow.  Sometimes, if I’m tired, I might doze while praying.  Most of the time, even if I’m not tired, I doze during this song.  It just lulls me to sleep.  Not to worry though; when I wake up everyone is still singing it.

6. When the Roll is Called Up Yonder – (W & M) James M. Black

I love the story behind this song.  But the theology is not the best.  The story is that James Black was a Sunday School teacher.  One day as he called roll, he noticed one of his most faithful students, a little girl, didn’t show up.  She didn’t show up the next week either.  He went to her house to check on her and found she was deathly ill.  She died not too much later, and he wrote this song for her funeral.  “When the Roll is Called up Yonder, I’ll be There.”  Beautiful thought, but not great theology.  Heaven is our waiting place.  Our home will not be beyond the skies, but rather on a New Earth.  That being said, I can tolerate this song.  I just have to remind myself of what is true.

5. The Battle Hymn of the Republic – (W) Julia W. Howe, (M) American Folk Melody

This song links the gospel is Americanism.  I can’t stand that.  I love my country.  I’m thankful for my country.  However, I do not believe 1. that we should sing about our country in church, and 2. we should link the gospel with a nation, but rather the people of Christ.

I remember the story of Joshua seeing an angel going to speak to him, asked him if he was on Israel’s side or the enemies side.  The angel responded that he was on neither side, but on the side of the LORD (Cf. Joshua 5:13-15).  The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written with the War Between the States in mind.  It was the song which the Union army touted to remind them that their cause was just and God was on their side.  God is on the side of God.  No nation (or faction within a nation) is perfectly on God’s side, and thus should never make an overarching blanket statement to a claim on God.

On top of this, it was written by Julia Ward Howe.  Her husband was part of the supporting six men of John Brown.  Brown was an abolotionist to the extreme, murdering many and causing riots leading to murder against those who disagreed with him and the cause.  Mr. Howe funded him, and Julia Howe, used the song’s tune that was used to sing about John Brown, as the tune for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

4. I have Decided to Follow Jesus – (W) Garo Christians, John Clark, (M) Folk Song from India

It’s so hard to sing fit the words, “because God has changed my heart and made me want him” in between “I have decided” and “to follow Jesus.”  They just don’t fit in there with any type of ease.  This song is bad theology.  That’s all I have to say.

3. Softly and Tenderly – (W & M) Will L. Thompson

I am not a fan of songs that make Jesus look like a weakling.  Jesus went to the cross and overcame death, defeated Satan, and is sitting on the throne of heaven.  He is not weak.  He is active and moving.  He is working in this world and saving lives.  He isn’t waiting and watching.  What a blasphemy against our Lord!

2. I Gave My Life for Thee – (W) Frances R. Havergal, (M) Philip P. Bliss

Can anyone say grace.  This song is telling us that we need to pay Jesus back.  “I gave, I gave, my life for thee, what hast thou giv’n for me?”  Really?  Nothing.  I could give nothing for Christ.  I am willing to give all I have for him, but not to earn His love and salvation.  This song is not about overwhelming love that is willing to do anything and everything one can for the person who died for them.  It is a song to make a person feel indebted and enslaved and feel like they must pay Jesus back.  We can’t do it; we shouldn’t feel like we must.  We readily accept the grace, and let that grace work in our lives.  He offered it free of charge.

1. The Savior is Waiting – (W & M) Ralph Carmichael

Again.  Here is Jesus just twiddling his thumbs. “The Savior is waiting to enter your heart.  Why don’t you let Him come in?”  He’s so weak and we are so strong.  We can keep the God of the universe out.  He keeps coming and coming and we keep locking Him out.  This is bad theology based on a bad understanding of Revelation 3:20.  This is one song I can say that I hate.  That’s a strong word, but it so wrong and blasphemous in my eyes, that I hate this song.

Runners up:

I Come to the Garden Alone – (W & M) C. Austin Miles

This song was written with Mary Magdalene in mind as she wept in the Garden of Gethsemane  and Jesus came to speak to her.  However, as we sing it, it gives the impression that Jesus still speaks audily to us, and when He bids us go it is against His will.  “But he bids me go; thro’ the voice of woe, His voice to me is calling.”  What does that even mean?  Jesus sends us on a mission.  He is not hesitant about that at all.  It does it all through heart-tugging music.  I don’t dislike this song, but it is more for sentamental reasons than anything else.

Rock of Ages – (W) Augustus Toplady, (M) Thomas Hastings

The words of Rock of Ages are great.  The tune could use a bit of updating.  I’m not a musician so I don’t know how that would happen, but the words are rich in truth and gospel.  If any of you know of an updated tune, let me know.  If any of you are song writers, write a new tune.

That about does it.  Go ahead….let it rip.  I’m sure there is plenty of disagreement.  Let’s just not be disagreeable.  Leave a comment about your likes or dislikes.  You can read my list of favorite hymns here.

Top 10 List: Favorite Verses

Back when I pastored the Fellowship of Christ in Hammond, IN, there was a running joke about my favorite verses.  Almost weekly, I would mention a verse of Scripture and make the claim that it was my favorite verse, or one of my favorite verses.  So I figured enough is enough; it’s time to list my top 10 favorite verses* (and why).

10. 2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

This was my favorite verse as a child.  I discovered it sometime around the age of 11 or 12.  It gripped me because of its blatant claim.  There was no ambiguity or equivocation.  It was a simple statement of fact.  Because I am in Christ, I am not the person I was.  Who I was, is gone.  I am new.  I may do old things at times–things of which I am, or may be, ashamed–but that is not me.  I’m made new.

9. Philippians 1:6 – And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

This just follows up with the previous verse quite nicely, doesn’t it?  I am not who I should be, or who I will be (but I am not who I was).  I’m on a journey, and the destination is set.  I know where I’m going, and I know what kind of person I will be when I get there.  Until I arrive, I know that God is growing me (even when I am not aware how He is doing it).  When I arrive, I will be the man I’ve always hoped to be.

8. Colossians 2:13-15 – And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

I know, this is three verses, but it is one thought.  I–who rebelled against God–was dead to God.  My sins separated me from Him (death is separation from something; physical death is separation of body and soul, spiritual death is separation of person from God).  Yet though I was dead, God resurrected me with Jesus.  In so doing, all my sins were forgiven.  Everything that separated me from God was forgiven.  The ledger book with all my debts was erased.  In its place was “paid in full” (John 19:30).  By Jesus’ resurrection, all the demons and devils of hell (rulers and authorities) were defeated.  Thus, I have nothing with which I need to worry.  Christ’s victory is my victory (1 Cor 15:57).  Which leads to the next two verses.

7. 1 Corinthians 15:57 – But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

While, this verse is eschatological (dealing with Christ’s return), the hope is for now.  Because Christ had victory over the grave, we shall have victory at His coming.  Sin will not be victorious over me (v. 56), but I will be victorious over it, but only because of Jesus’ victory is also my victory.

6. John 19:30 – When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The atonement for sin had been paid.  It is finished.  Those words would be marked at the end of a ledger of debt once it was paid.  Imagine writing the last check (or having the last direct withdrawal) for your mortgage.  What an exciting day!  It is finished!  No more house payment.  It’s yours!!  So it is with Christ’s death.  For all who believe (trust) in Christ’s payment, the final payment was made.  There is no more payment for sin.  The record of debt with all its obligations (legal demands of do this and do that, say this and say that, don’t do/say this or that) is cancelled.  Jesus paid it all.

5. Romans 8:1 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

No condemnation.  It has been said that Romans 8 begins with no condemnation and ends with no separation.  And that is so true.  Because the record of debt was paid by Christ in full, I cannot and will not be condemned by God.  What news could be better than that!?

4. Philippians 2:12-13 – Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

This ranks high, because it simply goes to show that while I cannot earn my salvation, I still am called to work it out.  God has granted me salvation.  He has declared me not guilty by condemning His Son who paid my debt.  That’s what we call justification (a declaration of not guilty).  But there is also what we call sanctification (or as I like to say: saint-ification).  This is what Paul is referring to in these verses.  It is the process of becoming more and more holy (more and more saintly).  God is at work in us to will and work for his good pleasure.  So we are to take what God is doing in us and work it out.  I picture it like toothpaste that is inside the tube.  When you go to brush your teeth, you squeeze the toothpaste out and onto your toothbrush.  At the end of the tube, if you’re like me, you go back to the bottom of the tube and squeeze hard, and maybe even start folding up the tube to get every microgram of toothpaste out of the tube.  God is at work in you, putting holiness into the heart, but we must work so that it come out in our actions.

3. Hebrews 2:18 – For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

This verse is similar to its popular cousin: Hebrews 4:15, but I like this one even more.  Christ suffered when tempted.  He knew what it was like to say no to the body and have his body punish Him for saying no.  I think of the addict who has a hard time saying no because it means suffering beyond belief to them.  To those who do not understand they offer little help or sympathy, but to the one who has been there and done that, they are there to help.  Jesus has suffered by saying no to temptation.  He knows what it is like, and he does not abandon, but rather, He helps.

2. 1 Peter 5:8 – Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Not the most exciting of verses.  A little terrifying actually.  However, I loved this verse as a kid.  Between this one and 2 Corinthians 5:17, I was excited to see what Jesus was up to.  Jesus was working on me, and the devil was after me.  I actually wrote a recent blog about this verse a little while ago, so I won’t go into great detail, but suffice it to say that this reminds us that we must be on the look out.  Satan is always waiting for our guards to be down so he can make his attack.  We must be ever-vigilant.

1. 2 Corinthians 5:21 – For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus became my sin.  He didn’t just bear my sin; He became my sin.  Thus when Jesus died, my sin died with Him.  So if my sin is dead, then there cannot be any condemnation because there is nothing to condemn.  Why did he do it?  So that I would become the righteousness of God in Him.  The word “might” there throws a lot of people off.  It seems to lean towards an uncertainty: maybe, maybe not.  That’s not what it means.  It means that what was once impossible is now possible.  There is not an ounce of uncertainty in this statement.  God declared us (believers in Christ) righteous (not guilty) at the death of Christ (thus, the death of our sin), and those who believe in Him become God’s righteousness.  So He became our sin, and we become His righteousness.  How could God condemn His own righteousness?  He can’t and He won’t.  (Just remember, we are becoming holier and holier; this final act of becoming God’s righteousness is just that: final.  We will not be fully righteous until Christ returns – Philippians 1:6.)

So that’s it.  Would you agree with me?  Disagree?  What are your top 10 (or top 5; or top 1)?  I’d love to read your comments.

*All verses are from ESV translation published by Crossway Books.